Salman Khan: Let’s teach for mastery — not test scores (TEDTalk)

Back in 2011 at an Education Roundtable at Stanford, Salman Khan (as a roundtable participant) left me with one enlightening understanding and it was about the pursuit of a “productive and happy life” in order to feel a satisfying sense of fulfillment. Education in the US (generalized), demonstrating low EQ, apparently does not understand this and continues to structure itself based on imminent failure and impossible fulfillment. This is what I found to be the premise of Salman Khan’s latest TEDTalk “Let’s Teach for Mastery – Not Test Scores” from November 2015.

Let’s also connect the mastery mentioned here with the mastery mentioned by Daniel Pink in his 2009 Ted Talk “The Puzzle of Motivation” and his book “Drive.” Mastery is one of the keys to intrinsic motivation which in turn is an essential element to building a love of lifelong learning – this ultimately is the purposeful beauty (albeit forgotten) of education.

“…then I start to disengage.” Under the lecture-homework-lecture-homework-quiz-test model (traditional US secondary education model), there is no opportunity to engage. So the problem is that there probably wasn’t any engagement to begin with (student-subject and student-teacher both) and that this lack of engagement is only apparent after an assessment. Even more pitiful is that the knowledge of a lack of engagement does not create any action item. There is ample opportunity to have a more professional approach to engagement, but it’s not done. For example, teachers should allocate time to checking engagement levels of individual students (akin to checking your blood pressure periodically to track health) so that action items can be prescribed and followed. Should we treat teachers as “educational physicians” – the ones on whom we rely on for our educational health?

“…it would reinforce the right mindset muscles.” Yes, ideally positive and growth mindsets along with creative and critical thinking would be nurtured, but the Target (tar-jay) model of US secondary education provides no aisle space to it (the IB model on the other hand does the mindset training well). One usually only starts to see this in graduate school where professors are somewhat focused on their research teams and identifying future prospects from their crop of lecture students. Below graduate school, the existing opportunities are in sports and other extracurricular activities. This is why the YCISL program treats leadership development as a self-driven choice.

“If you were allowed to be operating in a mastery framework…” I would have liked to have seen more visualization about the “mastery framework” being proposed. What is the “process” in mind and what are the specific changes (action item deltas) from the current process? Is the mastery for students as well as educators? What is the “ask” and what is the “promise”? I believe the greater ideal is to build intrinsic motivation, not only mastery, through education.

Following the YCISL leadership model, the mastery objective in high school (“Proof”) is different than in undergraduate college (“Integration”) which is different as you move higher. If you think of a Gamestorming framework, we need rules for “mastery” in education then be allowed to play and ultimately have a conclusion. What’s most absent now is the “play” sector where students can explore, experiment and change. But just as critical is to re-write the opening rules and re-define how the game ends. And we certainly should not be expected to close all the gaps.

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